He co-founded Louisiana’s famed Marucci bat company. Now Joe Lawrence has a new sports venture.

He co-founded Louisiana's famed Marucci bat company. Now Joe Lawrence has a new sports venture.
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Joe Lawrence helped co-found Marucci Sports, the Baton Rouge company known for making baseball bats used by hundreds of Major League Baseball players.

But his new business venture is all about backyards, not big-league ballparks.

Lawrence is the CEO of SweetSpot, which makes dozens of products, including pickleball paddles, golf clubs, flag football kits and baseball bats. The aim is to make athletic equipment that can be used for backyard games at an accessible price point.

After Marucci was bought out by Compass Diversified Holdings for $200 million in April 2020, Lawrence was semi-retired. But Dave Soderquist, the founder of SweetSpot, reached out to him with a business venture.

Soderquist had launched SweetSpot a year earlier as a way of harkening back to his days of playing baseball on a Minnesota farm in the 1950s.

“He took his passion for the game and applied it to a product that was suitable for not just the very good player, but also the players who were not so good,” Lawrence said.

Soderquist started sending SweetSpot baseballs and bats to Lawrence. Lawrence’s son, Lucas, took a liking to the equipment — to the point that they damaged part of a neighborhood golf course by playing so much ball there.

“That really piqued my interest,” Lawrence said. “It was about the experience for my son, and it reminded me of the experiences I had with my dad in a backyard.”

So Lawrence reached out to his childhood friend, Stan Levy, CEO of the local marketing agency SASSO, with the goal of creating a company that was aimed at selling family experiences, not just a product.

They made connections with Elysian Park Ventures, a private investment group that has ties to the ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Elysian Park has a stake in scores of sports-focused businesses, including DraftKings. 

That led to a decision to expand SweetSpot to make more than just baseball and softball bats and balls. The company was relaunched in February. This month, SweetSpot products will expand from being sold online and in about 160 stores to all 800 plus locations of Dick’s Sporting Goods. About 50 people work for SweetSpot, which is based in Baton Rouge but has distribution offices on the East and West Coast.

“We’ve really been spending this past year plus researching, building out these products, building out this brand, building out the online store and everything else to do this launch,” Levy said. “We kind of have a lot of pent-up anticipation from both the market, the retailers, and now we’re finally getting out there with it.”

In this week’s Talking Business, Lawrence and Levy talk about the potential market they see for backyard sports, what led to the expansion of SweetSport and how this new venture differs from Marucci Sports. 

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did y’all get involved with Elysian Park?

Lawrence: So one of our board members and one of the original shareholders of SweetSpot, Mike Fonseca, he has relationships that are inside of Elysian Park. Elysian Park, and Jay Adya, the managing partner connected with me. I’m proud to say that we cultivated a friendship that’s beyond just business, and once he was bit with the SweetSpot bug, he went all in and Elysian went all in. We’ve been very blessed to have him as a partner and what they want to do with this brand.

Can you talk about how much of an investment they put in?

Lawrence: It’s sizable. They’re our lead investment group.

They are a lead investor. They’re our lead investing partner. Their access, obviously, with the Dodgers speaks for itself. The brands that they have ownership in and are partnered with — from recreational to neighborhood youth organizations — is very, very unique.

Levy: There is a program they’re behind through basically (Major League Baseball) to grow the game. So they do see SweetSpot products, in particular on the baseball side, helping that youth recreational introduction to baseball type of things. We’re starting to really leverage some of that as we move forward.

They need to grow the game. Because it all kind of boils down to that in terms of for their own investments, for getting people in the stands, that sort of thing.

SweetSpot has recently grown to selling more than just baseball and softball equipment. Talk about that. 

Lawrence: We’ll be introducing those to the market in the middle of March. We have an exclusive launch with Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Levy: With Dick’s in particular, we’re partnering with them on this exclusive launch to really take this backyard category. You’ll start to see mid-March, in all the Dick’s across the country, almost our own section. There’s signage, products. I mean it’s pretty impactful because they really back and understand this vision of backyard being forgotten about.

How big do y’all see the market for backyard sports?

Lawrence: We had this conversation quite a bit.

Our estimations are $1.5 billion-plus.

So a lot of open territory.

Lawrence: Yeah, a lot bigger than that old one I was in.

Levy: I know others look at it even bigger than that, so it’s hard to put a number on it because we are kind of creating a category.

When I was a kid, it seemed that backyard sports was a bigger category. I guess it has just kind of fallen by the wayside.

Lawrence: My opinion? I think sports has gotten professionalized at the youth level, and I think there’s some concern with baseball in particular, growth of that sport. I feel like if I could reboot my own son, I’d spent more time in the backyard, I really would’ve. I don’t want the guilt of burnout as a parent, any of my kids. So I think it’s just parents get hyper-focused on the FOMO and I’ve got to go to this tournament, that tournament, and you lose sight of just the fact of having fun.

How is this different from Marucci?

Lawrence: We were building Ferraris at Marucci. It was a very impactful time in my life. I came back to play football at LSU. Had that not happened, I would’ve never met Jack Marucci. We never would’ve partnered with Kurt (Ainsworth), and the three of us wouldn’t have founded Marucci. That was therapeutic. I was getting out of baseball, jumping into football with Coach (Nick) Saban of all people. Jack was just a blessing to come into my life and give me an avenue to stay involved with baseball and not still be playing the sport. So that was more of a therapeutic experience for me. Sanding bats every day and not making any money for years had to be therapeutic.

This feels like a gift back more so than compared it to Marucci. We were hyper-focused on making the absolute best product that a very niche market would use. This is in my own way, a give back to sports in general and families of, if you can’t play at the top of the baseball pyramid, that you can still enjoy sports.

Where do y’all see things in five years?

Lawrence: I hope that people see our brand and know that they can trust us, and that it represents all the good that a mom or a dad or a grandparent, a big brother, big sister did for their own siblings or neighborhood friends, to just grow the sport and just get out there and spend time with one another. I hope that when people see SweetSpot on a hat, they look at that person and go, ‘Man, that’s a good person.'”

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About Mary Weyand 12340 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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